Thursday, January 29, 2015

Common pesticide may increase risk of ADHD

Mice exposed to a commonly used pesticide in utero and through lactation exhibited several features of ADHD, including dysfunctional dopamine signaling in the brain, hyperactivity, working memory, attention deficits and impulsive-like behaviour.

A commonly used pesticide may alter the development of the brain's dopamine system, responsible for emotional expression and cognitive function, and increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, according to a new Rutgers study.

The research published Wednesday in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB J.), by Rutgers scientists and colleagues from Emory University, the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Wake Forest University discovered that mice exposed to the pyrethroid pesticide deltamethrin in utero and through lactation exhibited several features of ADHD, including dysfunctional dopamine signaling in the brain, hyperactivity, working memory, attention deficits and impulsive-like behaviour.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder most often affects children, with an estimated 11 percent of children between the ages of 4-17, about 6.4 million, diagnosed as of 2011.

Boys are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. While early symptoms, including an inability to sit still, pay attention and follow directions, begin between the ages of 3 to 6, diagnosis is usually made after the child starts attending school full time.

Importantly, in this study, the male mice were affected more than the female mice, similar to what is observed in children with ADHD.

The ADHD-like behaviours persisted in the mice through adulthood, even though the pesticide, considered to be less toxic and used on golf courses, in the home, and on gardens, lawns and vegetable crops, was no longer detected in their system.

Although there is strong scientific evidence that genetics plays a role in susceptibility to the disorder, no specific gene has been found that causes ADHD and scientists believe that environmental factors may also contribute to the development of the behavioural condition.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) the study analyzed health care questionnaires and urine samples of 2,123 children and adolescents.

Researchers asked parents whether a physician had ever diagnosed their child with ADHD and cross-referenced each child's prescription drug history to determine if any of the most common ADHD medications had been prescribed.

Children with higher pyrethroid pesticide metabolite levels in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

These findings provide strong evidence, using data from animal models and humans, that exposure to pyrethroid pesticides, including deltamethrin, may be a risk factor for ADHD, says lead author Jason Richardson, associate professor in the Department and Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI).

"Although we can't change genetic susceptibility to ADHD, there may be modifiable environmental factors, including exposures to pesticides that we should be examining in more detail," says Richardson.

Young children and pregnant women may be more susceptible to pesticide exposure because their bodies do not metabolize the chemicals as quickly.

This is why, Richardson says, human studies need to be conducted to determine how exposure affects the developing fetus and young children.

"We need to make sure these pesticides are being used correctly and not unduly expose those who may be at a higher risk," Richardson says.

More information: "Developmental pesticide exposure reproduces features of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." FASEB J fj.14-260901; published ahead of print January 28, 2015, doi: 10.1096/fj.14-260901

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain


This material is based upon Dr Thomas Armstrong's book The Power of Neurodiversity:  Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain. The Neurodiversity Strengths Checklist for Children.

Neurodiversity:  A Concept Whose Time Has Come

Over the past sixty years, we’ve witnessed a phenomenal growth in the number of new psychiatric illnesses.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, first published in 1952, originally listed about 100 categories of illness.

By the year 2000, that number had tripled.  We’ve become accustomed to hearing in the news about “learning disabilities,” “ADHD,” “Asperger’s syndrome,” and other conditions that were virtually unheard of fifty years ago.

A report from the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that about one-fourth of the American population suffers from a psychiatric disorder in any given year, and an article in the Archives of General Psychology suggested that over the course of a lifetime, approximately half of all people may suffer from a mental illness sometime during their lives.

Add to this the observation by Harvard Medical School professor John Ratey that many people have milder versions of psychiatric conditions (he calls them “shadow syndromes”), and we come to the conclusion that when all is said and done, nearly every individual in the country may have a psychiatric illness to one degree or another.

This epidemic in the growth of mental illness suggests that there is a crisis in the making.  How much longer can we continue to add new psychiatric illnesses to the list, before it becomes apparent that we have moved too far in pathologizing a sizeable chunk of the American populace?

There is, however, an answer to this crisis.  The concept of neurodiversity provides a paradigm shift in how we think about mental functioning.

Instead of regarding large portions of the American public as suffering from deficit, disease, or dysfunction in their mental processing, neurodiversity suggests that we instead speak about differences in cognitive functioning.

Just as we talk about differences in bio-diversity and cultural diversity, we need to start using the same kind of thinking in talking about brain differences.

We don’t pathologize a calla lily for not having petals (e.g. petal deficit disorder), nor do we diagnose an individual with brown skin as suffering from a “pigmentation dysfunction.”

Similarly, we ought not to pathologize individuals who have different ways of thinking, relating, attending, and learning

The word neurodiversity was coined in the late 1990’s by two individuals: journalist Harvey Blume, and autism advocate Judy Singer.

Blume wrote in the September 1, 1998 issue of The Atlantic:  “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?

Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.” Singer in a 1999 book chapter titled:  “Why Can’t You Be Normal For Once in Your Life?” observed:  “For me, the key significance of the ‘Autistic Spectrum’ lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of Neurological Diversity, or what I want to call ‘Neurodiversity.’

The ‘Neurologically Different’ represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class/gender/race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability.

”The Wikepedia defines neurodiversity as:  “…an idea which asserts that atypical (neurodivergent) neurological development is a normal human difference that is to be recognized and respected as any other human variation.”  

The online Double-Tongued Dictionary characterizes neurodiversity as:  “the whole of human mental or psychological neurological structures or behaviours, seen as not necessarily problematic, but as alternate, acceptable forms of human biology.”

By using the concept of neurodiversity to account for individual neurological differences, we create a discourse whereby labeled people may be seen in terms of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.

Dyslexics, for example, can be seen in terms of their visual thinking ability and entrepreneurial strengths.  People with ADHD can be regarded as possessing a penchant for novel learning situations.

Individuals along the autistic spectrum can be looked at in terms of their facility with systems such computer programming or mathematical computation.

Those with bipolar disorder can be appreciated for their creative pursuits in the arts.

While proponents of the concept of neurodiversity do not shirk from the realization that people with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions, often suffer great hardships, and that those hardships require a lot of hard work to overcome, they realize that until an individual’s strengths have been recognized, celebrated, and worked with, nothing substantial can be accomplished with regard to their difficulties.

 Eight Principles of Neurodiversity:

The Human Brain Works More Like an Ecosystem than a Machine.  Up until now, the most often used metaphor to refer to the brain has been a computer (or some other type of machine).

However, the human brain isn’t hardware or software, it’s wetware.  The characterization of the brain as an unbelievably intricate network of ecosystems is much closer to the truth than that of a complex machine.

We should devise a discourse that better reflects this new conception of the brain.

Human Brains  Exist Along Continuums of Competence. Rather than regarding disability categories as discrete entities, it’s more appropriate to speak of spectrums or continuums of competence.

Recent research, for example, indicates that dyslexia is part of a spectrum that includes normal reading ability.

Similarly, we use terms such as autistic spectrum disorders, to suggest that there are different gradations of social ability that merge ultimately with normal behavior.

This suggests that we are all somewhere along continuums related to literacy, sociability, attention, learning, and other cognitive abilities, and thus all of us are connected to each other, rather than being separated into "normal" and "those having disabilities."

Human Competence is Defined by the Values of the Culture to Which You Belong.  Categories of disability often deeply reflect the values of a culture.

Dyslexia, for example, is based upon the social value that everyone be able to read.

One hundred and fifty years ago, this wasn’t the case, and dyslexia was unknown.  Similarly, autism may reflect the cultural value that suggests that it’s better to be in relationship than to be alone.

We should recognize that diagnostic categories are not purely scientifically-based but reflect these deeper social biases.

Whether You are Regarded As Disabled or Gifted Depends Largely on When and Where You Were Born.  

In other times and other places, there have been different disability/ability diagnoses depending upon cultural values.

In pre-Civil War America, for example, there was a disorder called “drapetomania” said to afflict blacks.

Its meaning was “an obsession with the urge to flee one’s slave masters” and reflected its racist roots. In India, today, there are people who would be labeled in the West as schizophrenic, but who are regarded as holy beings by the local population.

We should not regard diagnostic labels as absolute and set in stone, but think, instead, of their existence relative to a particular social setting.  

Success in Life is Based on Adapting One’s Brain to the Needs of the Surrounding Environment.   Despite Principles 3 and 4, however, it's true that we don’t live in other places or times, consequently the immediate need is to adapt to our current contemporary culture.

This means that a dyslexic person needs to learn how to read, an autistic individual needs to learn how to relate to others socially, a schizophrenic individual needs to think more rationally and so forth.

Tools such as psychoactive medication or intensive remediation programs can help achieve these aims.

Success in Life Also Depends on Modifying Your Surrounding Environment to Fit the Needs of Your Unique Brain (Niche Construction).

We shouldn’t focus all of our attention on making a neurodiverse person adapt to the environment in which they find themselves, which is a little like making a round peg fit in a square hole.

We should also devise ways of helping an individual change their surrounding environment to fit the needs of their unique brain.

Niche Construction Includes Career and Lifestyle Choices, Assistive Technologies, Human Resources, and Other Life-Enhancing Strategies Tailored to the Specific Needs of a Neurodiverse Individual.

There are many tools, resources, and strategies for altering the environment so that it it meshes with the needs of a neurodiverse brain.

For example, a person with ADHD, can find a career that involves novelty and movement, use an iPhone to help with organizing his day, and hire a coach to assist him with developing better social skills.

Positive Niche Construction Directly Modifies the Brain, Which in Turn Enhances its Ability to Adapt to the Environment. In experiments with mice, neuroscientists have shown that a more enriching environment results in a more complex network of neuronal connections in the brain.

This more complex brain, in turn, has an easier time adapting to the needs of the surrounding environment.

In conclusion, the potential is great for the neurodiversity movement to create significant social transformation.

Already, for example, there are software firms that have recognized the special programming gifts of certain people with Asperger’s syndrome and others on the autistic spectrum, and have hired significant numbers of them to improve their productivity.

Similarly, more people are understanding that ADHD brings with it special abilities as well as difficulties, and that appropriate career selection can be an important part of determining whether one will be successful or unsuccessful in a particular job.

It is hoped that the concept of neurodiversity will help combat “abelism” or the belief that people who are “abnormal” should be discriminated against, condescended to, and ultimately kept out of the basic affairs of society.

Neurodiversity brings with it a sense of hope, that all individuals, regardless of how they read, think, feel, socialize, or attend, will be recognized for their gifts, and accorded the same rights and privileges as any other human being.  

The full article and references here

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dyslexsia: Supporting Writing Difficulties - Call Scotland

Call Scotland has released this marvelous poster, entitled Supporting Writing Difficulties.

A step-by-step guide in the form of a question and answer ‘checklist’ helping you to identify problems and suggesting a range of practical technology focused solutions to support pupils with writing difficulties.

You can download a PDF version here.

CALL Scotland’s Vision

Every child / young person in Scotland with a disability or additional support needs has the curriculum materials, the Assistive Technologies (AT) and/or Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools they may need, and the support to use them effectively, to participate effectively and fulfill their potential through learning and achievement.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scotland: Farming with Dyslexia

The inaugural meeting of the Farming with Dyslexia Working Group, led by NFU Scotland, took place earlier this week.

Chaired by the Union’s Vice President Rob Livesey, the group was established to ensure that Scottish farming stakeholders recognise the needs of dyslexic crofters and farmers in the most appropriate way.

Representatives from NFU Scotland, the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments Inspection Directorate, Forestry Commission Scotland, Dyslexia Scotland and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) along with four farming and crofting members of NFU Scotland who have dyslexia attended the meeting on Wednesday (3 September).

Steered by NFU Scotland, this group was borne from the recognition that dyslexia is a real, but often hidden, issue among the farming community.

With some 25 per cent of agriculture students at SRUC receiving support for dyslexia, it is believed this heritable condition is more prevalent within the farming sector than previously thought.

However, due to stigma and poor understanding, it can remain undiagnosed and can be problematic for those dealing with communications, regulation and form-filling within the agriculture industry.

The Union recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of dyslexia amongst the farming community, whilst engaging with the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and SRUC to see how joint work can be undertaken to better recognise the issue and support those affected.

NFU Scotland Vice President Rob Livesey commented:

“Today’s meeting was a constructive one and a sound starting point for those keen to recognise the impact of dyslexia within our industry and what action we can take to help their situation.

“I believe we have a great bunch of people with vision and determination to make a difference.  The contribution from those within the working group will be crucial to the success of this initiative.

“It’s now clear to myself and others that there is no one size fits all approach to helping those with dyslexia working within Scottish farming. However, there is a commitment to proactively help those that have or suspect they have dyslexia.

“As a group, our first objective is to continue to raise awareness and build on the work that we have started. The next task we have is to attempt to remove the stigma attached to dyslexia. We strongly believe as a group that there is huge potential to tap into the talent that dyslexic people in our industry have and help them recognise their own potential for the benefit of all.

“That ambition can be underpinned by engaging with all stakeholders to ensure the needs of those with dyslexia are taken into account and that all communications and regulations are available in a format appropriate for those with dyslexia.

“As a result we will be embarking on a campaign in the next few months to address those stated aims.”

Note to Editors

  • The three key objectives agreed at the first meeting of the Farmers with Dyslexia Working group were:
  • Raise awareness of dyslexia to reduce the stigma and promote the abilities of dyslexic individuals which are of great benefit to the agriculture industry
  • Engage with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to ensure measures to recognise dyslexia among the farming community are appropriate.
  • Ensure systems of communication with regulatory bodies are more accessible for dyslexic farmers and crofters with a choice of delivery options
  • A photograph of the working group is available on request, by contacting Bob Carruth: or by calling 0131 472 4006.
  • NFU Scotland launched a campaign to get better support in place for farmers and crofters who have dyslexia in July to ensure there is suitable support in place to make the day-to-day running of their businesses easier and more efficient when it comes to form filling and communicating with farming organisations.
  • The campaign has received the backing from former racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart and the Union has been working with Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and SRUC throughout the campaign. For more information visit:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Embracing Dyslexia - Video

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. Individuals with dyslexia have trouble with reading, writing, and spelling despite having at least an average intelligence.

It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the population is dyslexic but most are never identified or diagnosed and left to struggle their entire life.

We know how to fix the reading, writing, and spelling issues that dyslexics struggle with. But there is a tremendous roadblock in the way and it is there because our governments, schools and educators are simply misinformed about what dyslexia is or they have no information at all.

By carefully weaving together interviews with parents, experts, and adult dyslexics, "Embracing Dyslexia" tackles the issues surrounding dyslexia like no other documentary film has before.

Parents share emotional stories of their anxiety and frustration over failing to understand why their children were struggling with reading, writing, and spelling and the life-altering impact the word dyslexia had on their lives.

Adult dyslexics courageously open up and speak candidly about their dyslexia, sharing their struggles and successes they have had in school and in their adult lives.

Experts define what dyslexia is, illustrate why early dyslexia screening for all children is vital, and share how effective tutoring, classroom accommodations, and fostering the natural strengths dyslexic's possess can take them from experiencing failure on a daily basis to believing in themselves and knowing that they can be successful.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fragile-X Syndrome (FXS): Spaced training improves long term memory

Prominent characteristics of the syndrome include an elongated face, large or protruding ears, and low muscle tone. 

Credit: Wikipedia

Research on mice with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) suggests that multiple, spaced training sessions can enhance learning and long term memory when longer, continuous sessions do not.

Christine Gall and colleagues at the University of California Irvine tested mice with FXS on their ability to remember objects and locations and found that multiple training sessions, with 60-minutes breaks, allowed them to perform as well as healthy mice.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

FXS is the most common cause of inherited intellectual disability. Previous studies have shown that mice with this condition have a problem with synaptic signaling in the hippocampus, which affects their ability to create long term memories.

Christine Gall
Gall's team wanted to see if they could create a training regime that would help overcome synaptic signaling problems and enable mice with FXS to learn normally.

They knew that individuals tend to learn better when trained in short, spaced trials rather than a single, long training episode, so they tested whether spaced training would help FXS mice.

The researchers tested the mice on object location memory (OLM) and novel object recognition (NOR).

To test OLM, they placed a mouse in a chamber that also contained two identical objects.

They gave the mouse time to examine the objects and remember their locations, and then removed the mouse. When the mouse was gone, the researchers moved one of the objects.

They then returned the mouse to the chamber. If the mouse spent more time exploring the new location than the old location, it was a sign that it had remembered the original location.

NOM testing involved replacing one of the identical objects with a different object, without changing its location.

Mice that spent more time examining the new object showed that they had remembered the original object.

After undergoing five minutes of continuous training and being removed from the chamber for 24 hours, wild mice recognized that one of the objects had moved or been replaced, but FXS mice did not.

However, when the researchers divided the training into three 100-second trials, with 60-minute intervals between them, the FXS mice performed about as well as the wild mice.

Gall's team examined hippocampal tissue from the mice and found that control FXS mice had problems with the activation of ERK1/2, a kinase needed for memory encoding.

Spaced training corrected this problem and restored proper signaling between synapses.

More information: Spaced training rescues memory and ERK1/2 signaling in fragile X syndrome model mice, PNAS, Ronald R. Seese, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1413335111

Monday, November 3, 2014

Children with dyslexia might also be having difficulties with social skills

A reluctance to do any reading may be a classic sign of dyslexia, but there may be other tell-tale signs that can raise a parent's concern according to Joanna Dunton of Bangor University's Miles Dyslexia Centre.

Speaking ahead of Dyslexia Awareness Week, (3- 9 November) Language Therapist Jo Dunton explained that children with dyslexia might be having difficulties with reading, spelling and writing, but also with social skills, and with other seemingly unrelated areas.

"It could be that a dyslexic child may be particularly prone to forgetting things or being rather disorganised," explained Jo Dunton.

"Because of the challenges facing them, children with dyslexia may appear withdrawn or lose interest in school work, or might want to avoid going to school and, research has shown, could often be bullied or socially isolated due to their difficulties."

"These differences can lead to low self-esteem, especially if the child doesn't understand why they're having to struggle to do things that other children seem to be able to achieve with ease."

"Recognising the problem can be extremely helpful, as can setting things in place to help the dyslexic child overcome the particular difficulties facing them."

However dyslexia is not all negative, many people with dyslexia have great spatial or 3D awareness, and many go on to be engineers.

Places such as the spy HQ GCHQ have dyslexics ranking among their staff as does space agency NASA, so the sky's the limit!

If you think your child may be facing difficulties with reading, writing or any educationally related problem, then the first port of call should be the school" she told reporters.

"However, here at the Miles Dyslexia Centre we're always willing to speak with parents and advise them and can provide consultation sessions for parents and children."

Jo's Top Tips for Parents:

  • Talk to your child - discuss their day or their feelings. Vocabulary has been shown to have a major impact on developing literacy skills.
  • Look at the whole person rather than focus on your child's difficulties. Encourage then to get involved with things that they are good at as this will help build self-esteem.
  • Don't let homework become a battle ground. Little and often is more effective, reading one page or practising one word is better than nothing at all.
  • Spelling practice can be done with a whiteboard or with plastic letters. Try to find a way to make it fun.
  • Reading does not always have to be from a book. Perhaps use sets of word cards to make sentences, play matching or pairs games. Don't let your child view it as a chore that has to be done.
  • Out shopping- ask your child to read out the shopping list or the signs around the store. We are surrounded by words, use them as resources.
  • Talk to the school about any concerns you may have. Working together with the school can lead to a more coordinated response to any difficulties.
  • Self-organisation can be a key difficulty leading to forgotten books, kit, pens etc. Encourage your child to develop a routine. Is it swimming tomorrow? – Get the kit ready tonight!
  • Encourage the use of memory joggers such as checklists, 'to do' lists or school planners. Perhaps a large chalkboard or whiteboard could be used as a family planner.
  • Remember reading and spelling are skills, and, like any skill, they need lots of regular practice. Footballers, swimmers and tennis stars also have to work hard to improve their skills!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dyslexia: The Discover Dyslexia chart

SHARE the Discover Dyslexia chart from WebMD

Friday, October 31, 2014

FUNterval: Fun and games make for better learners

Four minutes of physical activity can improve behaviour in the classroom for primary school students, according to new research by Brendon Gurd.

A brief, high-intensity interval exercise, or a "FUNterval," for Grade 2 and Grade 4 students reduced off-task behaviours like fidgeting or inattentiveness in the classroom.

"While 20 minutes of daily physical activity (DPA) is required in Ontario primary schools, there is a need for innovative and accessible ways for teachers to meet this requirement," says Dr. Gurd, lead researcher and professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

"Given the time crunch associated with the current school curriculum we thought that very brief physical activity breaks might be an interesting way to approach DPA. We were particularly interested in what effects a brief exercise bout might have in the classroom setting."

For the study, students were taught a class and were then given an active break, where they would perform a FUNterval, or a non-active break where they would learn about different aspects of healthy living on alternating days for three weeks.

After each break, classroom observers recorded instances of off-task behaviour. When a four minute FUNterval was completed during a break from class, there was less off-task behaviour observed in the 50 minutes following the break than if students completed a non-active break.

Working with Dr. Gurd, master's student Jasmine Ma created the series of four-minute activities that students could complete in small spaces with no equipment.

FUNtervals involved actively acting out tasks like "making s'mores" where students would lunge to "collect firewood," "start the fire" by crouching and exploding into a star jump and squatting and jumping to "roast the marshmallows" to make the S'more.

Each activity moves through a 20-second storyline of quick, enthusiastic movements followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight intervals.

This research was published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

Autism: Conventional UK police interview techniques are not effective

Police find interviewing and interacting with witnesses and suspects with autism a real challenge, a new study from researchers in the Department of Psychology at UK's University of Bath, has revealed, highlighting that the ways UK police officers have been taught to interview could be at odds with what is needed in these situations.

As part of the study, the researchers found that existing interview techniques tend to focus on open questions, only later narrowing down to closed questions, whereas research shows that people with autism may need focused questions from the outset.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded research studied what does, and does not, work when police interview people with autism.

Katie Maras
The researchers, including Dr Katie Maras from Department of Psychology, University of Bath and her colleague, Dr Laura Crane, at City University London, are calling for better training for UK police and criminal justice professionals as, at present in the UK, these groups currently have no standard compulsory training about autism.

Dr Maras said: "As part of this study we have heard of many cases where problems have arisen because police and other criminal justice professionals know very little about autism.

"Research in this area is still in its infancy, but it's steadily accumulating. There's a crucial need to get findings to practitioners to help them obtain the best evidence possible from people with autism."

Laura Crane
More than 400 UK frontline and investigative police officers holding a variety of ranks provided information for the study.

They spoke of the difficulties and challenges they encounter when obtaining written, oral and identification evidence.

Officers reported, for example, finding it hard to build rapport with people with autism, which usually plays an important part in interviews.

They also described difficulties in arranging a suitable environment for interviews.

"Police stations tend to be noisy with bright or flickering lighting and strange smells, but people with autism are often sensitive to sensory input and as a result they can struggle to maintain concentration in interviews", Dr Maras added.

Over 600,000 people in the UK have autism, many of whom will come into contact with the police at some point in their lives.

Poor social-communication skills can make them vulnerable when involved with the UK Criminal Justice System as a victim, witness or suspect.

Individuals with autism process memories in a different way from other people, which can lead to misunderstandings.

During the study, officers answered questions about existing interview practices that they considered worked well, and were asked what could be done to develop understanding and skills.

The researchers found examples of excellent practice, especially among police officers who were able to draw on their personal experience of the disorder through familiarity with a family member or colleague with autism.

On a further positive note, related research shows that there are simple and effective strategies that can enhance the evidence that people with autism give and improve their credibility as witnesses.

For example, providing information about a witness' diagnosis can improve his or her perceived credibility; unusual and stereotyped behaviours can be attributed to autism, rather than a lack of credibility.